Arsonists who risked couple’s lives face jail

Firefighters on the scene in Eden Street, Horden  Picture from Nicky Middleton
Firefighters on the scene in Eden Street, Horden Picture from Nicky Middleton

Two men are facing jail for starting a potentially deadly fire that caused a couple to flee their flat in the early hours of the morning.

Gary Bell, 42, and Lee Morrow, 47, have been convicted of causing a blaze inside a storage unit in Eden Street, Horden, at around 4.30am on Sunday, May 21.

Chas Stoddard, 58, and his partner Dee Stobie, 53, who lived in a flat above the unit had to run for their lives after their home filled with smoke.

Bell, of Blackhills Road, Horden, pleaded guilty to two counts of arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered.

He also started another fire at around 2am the same morning in the yard of the building which was put out by the fire brigade.

Morrow was found guilty of being involved in starting the later fire inside the storage unit following a trial at Teesside Crown Court.

CCTV footage showed him jumping over the yard wall and leaving the scene at around 4.30am as smoke started to emerge from the property.

Bell, who was on crutches, was left behind after Mr Stoddard had closed the yard gate while they were inside.

Prosecutor Stephen Grattage said: “Smoke was billowing as he (Morrow) climbs over the wall.

“This man was present when the fire was set, when it took hold and for long enough for it to be creating the smoke that was seen in that video.”

Bell was found later with singed hair and blackened hands.

Morrow claimed he had been “mooching about” looking for scrap metal and in cars for things to steal when he bumped into Bell, whom he has known for about 20 years.

He said Bell directed him to the yard and they both went inside.

Morrow claimed he became uncomfortable when Bell climbed through a window inside the unit where an “Aladdin’s cave” of property worth £4,000, including disco equipment, was being stored.

No motive for the fire is known, but the prosecution suggested it may have been to cover up the break-in.

Mr Grattage said Morrow was lying as he claimed he had only been rummaging through rubbish bags in the yard, but failed to notice the whole area was wet after the earlier fire or the gate being locked on them.

Morrow, of Sixth Street, Horden, was convicted of arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered.

Sentencing was adjourned for the preparation of reports by the probation service.

Both men are remanded in custody.